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Robots shaping up to be carers of the future
JOSS Wright is one of 14 researchers across the country studying how humanoid robots are developing.
He predicts that one day robots could become friendly companions to older people, providing part of the answer to problems experienced by the growing elderly population.
The 32-year-old from Cowley Road believes that humanoid robots could not only make good companions but might one day also play a role as substitute carers.
He is working on a £2m project, called Being There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces, which launched in October last year.
The Oxford University research fellow said: “We are not building robots, but we are looking at how robots interact with humans, and that is something that hasn’t been answered yet.
“One of the goals is that older people in their homes with poor mobility could have a companion to make sure they take their pills on time or call 999 if they fall over.
- STUDYING: Oxford University research fellow Joss Wright
“The name ‘robot’ actually means a machine designed to do the work of humans – that is what a robot is.
“Obviously it is nicer for a person to have family or carers around, but for better or for worse that is not happening.
“The robots can be a way to provide care and support for people who are not getting that support from humans.
“It would be very useful – having a carer that visits during the day, and a robot helping them at night.
“The amount of resources for a carer to look after a person 24/7 is huge but a robot would not be.
“They will almost certainly play a bigger part in day-to-day life.”
The researcher is not worried about robot’s ability to take over the world as featured in the likes of The Terminator and Blade Runner.
But he is concerned about the data gathering robots complete to carry out their tasks.
It is partly for this reason the £2m project Being There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces was launched.
As a result of the number of potential roles robots could play in everyday life, Mr Wright is one of 14 researchers working on a UK-wide project.
Mr Wright and Oxford University colleague Ian Brown are part of a three-year project looking to embed privacy in the design of robots.
It explores privacy concerns around robots gathering data about humans, and humans trusting robots.
One of the ways robots can recognise who a person is entering a room is by their unique phone signal.
It means the robot could store information about who is spending time in a certain place, and even who they are with.
Dr Brown is the Associate Director of Oxford University’s Cyber Security Centre.
He said: “When we begin to interact with friendly-looking humanoid robots, our expectations and assumptions shift.
“New questions arise about how much we trust these devices.
“Some people might develop an emotional attachment to them, particularly in situations where robots play the role of companions.
“It is important, therefore, that we design robots that have privacy embedded into their design, so their information gathering is restricted to what is needed to interact and carry out their tasks, and information about the identity of their human users is kept to a minimum. Otherwise, these robot ‘friends’ could betray the trust of the people they come into contact with, passing on information to third parties.
Mr Wright and Dr Brown are using coding to try and put blocks into the computer system that runs a robot, so that it only gathers the minimum amount of data it needs to perform its task.
Last week Dr Brown presented the annual Oxford London lecture on exactly this topic.
He argued technology like robots need to serve public good as well as private interests, and privacy should be embedded into their systems.
He added: “While robots provide opportunities to make our lives easier, the potential loss of control over this information should concern us.
“At Oxford we have been exploring how individuals can maintain control over information about themselves, while still enjoying the potential benefits of robotic technology.”
‘They have their limits but they are cute’
The researchers work with two robots on the project called Nao robots.
Each costs £12,000 and stands 58cm tall.
They are built by French company Aldebaran Robotics.
It has two cameras, four microphones, nine tactile sensors, and eight pressure sensors.
It also includes a voice synthesizer, LED lights, and two high-fidelity speakers.
But it definitely has its limits.
Mr Wright explained: “They can only stand still for 30 minutes before their motor overheats, they only have 40 minutes battery life.
“They are a little bit disappointing when you actually get to play with them but they are very cute.”
Being there: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces was launched in October last year.
A total of 14 researchers work on the £2m project.
They are from the universities of Oxford, Bath, Exeter, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
The project is funded by the Electronic and Physical Sciences Research Council.
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